What would you rather do on a Sunday morning than wake up early and read weekly picks and power rankings involving 32 teams that basically are of equal strength and ability to beat, lose to or tie anyone on any given Sunday, Monday, Saturday, Thursday (and some day, when the revenue ceiling needs to be extended to a gazillion bazillion dollars, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday as well)?
CRAIG’S NFL POWER RANKINGS
BEST OF THE BUNCH
1. Patriots (7-2)
Why: Still think the Patriots should trade Tom Brady? A 22-point manhandling of the Broncos extended the Patriots’ win streak to five games and proved – once again – that Bill Belichick’s teams don’t stay the same from Week 1 (a 33-20 loss at Miami) to Week 4 (a 41-14 loss at Kansas City) to Week 9. Those who predict the Patriots’ demise have been swinging and missing for a long time now. But cheer up. Eventually, one of these years, you will make contact.
2. Cardinals (7-1); 3. Broncos (6-2); 4. Eagles (6-2); 5. Chiefs (5-3); 6. Lions (6-2); 7. Steelers (6-3); 8. Colts (6-3); 9. Dolphins (5-3); 10. Seahawks (5-3); 11. Saints (4-4); 12. Bills (5-3); 13. Packers (5-3); 14. Browns (6-3); 15. Bengals (5-3-1); 16. Cowboys (6-3); 17. Ravens (5-4).
18. Vikings 4-5 (Last week: 24): They’re certainly not playoff-caliber, but they’ve got a two-game win streak and are improving week by week defensively and at quarterback.
THE REST OF THE REST19. Rams (3-5); 20. 49ers (4-4); 21. Chargers (5-4); 22. Giants (3-5); 23. Texans (4-5); 24. Redskins (3-6); 25. Bears (3-5); 26. Panthers (3-5-1); 27. Jaguars (1-8); 28. Titans (2-6); 29. Falcons (2-6); 30. Raiders (0-8); 31. Buccaneers (1-7).
WORST OF THE BUNCH
32: Jets (1-8): Eight straight losses after a five-point win over the Raiders? The J-E-T-S … S-T-I-N-K, S-T-I-N-K, S-T-I-N-K! They’ve already matched last year’s loss total of eight.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE HOPEFUL
1, Teddy Bridgewater spends a lot of time looking like a rookie should when he’s six games into being thrown into the starting role. He’s 3-3 and still has more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (three). But he doesn’t appear rattled and has led the Vikings from behind in the fourth quarter in each of his three wins. That’s big.
2, The team is very healthy by NFL standards. After taking some hits early, the Vikings’ health is strong and will get better when tight end Kyle Rudolph (hernia surgery) returns as early as the Bears game next Sunday. And, oh yeah, although it’s not injury-related, there also is a possibility that Adrian Peterson could return at some point this season. But one shouldn’t hold one’s breath on that time table until the NFL is done reviewing AP’s court case.
3, The pass rush has been the key to a fourth-place ranking in pass defense. Who’d have thought the Vikings would be No. 4 in pass defense at the bye? Yes, there have been notable lapses that have been costly (see: Buffalo). But the Vikings are No. 2 in sacks per pass play, which has allowed their coverage to contest passes more consistently.
THREE REASONS FOR VIKINGS FANS TO BE NERVOUS
1, Is the pass protection good enough to help Bridgewater continue to develop as a pocket passer, particularly on the deep balls? Further study of game tape from the first half of the season shows to many instances of left guard Charlie Johnson getting overpowered or not sliding correctly. While some of us love to hate the left tackle, one could turn on the tape and make a case that he’s not the biggest concern.
2, Cordarrelle Patterson is immensely gifted. But when will it click for him that he needs more than that to dominate in the NFL? We’ll give Patterson a long leash on this because he spent just one year at Tennessee before being thrown into two completely different offenses in his first two NFL seasons. But at some point, the big, fast, gifted receiver needs to figure out how to be exactly where the QB thinks he’s going to be. At this level, QBs have to throw the ball to a spot before the receiver gets to that spot.
3, The depth at cornerback can disappear in a blink on a lot of NFL rosters. Against Washington, the Vikings’ No. 4 corner, Jabari Price, was inactive because of a hamstring injury. When No. 1 corner Xavier Rhodes went down and had to be evaluated for a concussion, suddenly No. 5 corner Marcus Sherels was on the field in the red zone in the nickel defense. His penalty on third down allowed Washington to score on the next play. After that, the Vikings used No. 6 corner Shaun Prater as the No. 3 until Rhodes returned. The old cliché’ “You can never have enough good corners” has never been more accurate in the NFL.
Last week: Washington plus-2 ½ at Vikings. The pick Vikings 17, Redskins 10. The final: Vikings 29, Redskins 26.6-3.
49ers plus-5 at Saints. The pick: 49ers 27, Saints 24.
Why: The Saints have stabilized themselves at 4-4 and are at home, where they’re 3-0. The 49ers have lost two straight and are coming off a loss at home to St. Louis. So, naturally, using NFL logic, the 49ers will win because they’re the more desperate team. The Saints will lose because they’re the team that more of us are assuming will win.
Last week: Broncos minus-3 at Patriots: The pick: Patriots 38, Broncos 28. The final: Patriots 43, Broncos 21. Record: 3-6.
THE RESTJaguars plus-7 ½ vs. Cowboys at London: Cowboys by 3
Dolphins plus-2 ½ at Lions: Lions by 7
Chiefs minus-2 at Bills: Bills by 3
Titans plus-9 ½ at Ravens: Ravens by 7
Steelers minus-5 at Jets: Steelers by 3
Falcons minus-2 ½ at Buccaneers: Buccaneers by 3
Broncos minus-11 ½ at Raiders: Broncos by 10
Rams plus-7 at Cardinals: Rams by 3
Giants plus-9 at Seahawks: Seahawks by 7
Bears plus-7 at Packers: Packers by 3
Panthers plus-6 ½ at Eagles: Panthers by 3
Record: Last week/overall: 7-5/76-48-1. Versus spread: Last week/overall: 6-6/64-61.